Cook-Off

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 17, 2017

Copyright 2017 Lionsgate
Take one “British Baking Show” and add a cup of Christopher Guest improvised mockumentary, a lot of processed food products, a gallon of ambition, romantic complications, sibling rivalry, and a muffin-head-wearing mascot, and let it marinate for a decade and you’ve got “Cook-Off,” a very funny movie made ten years ago but just now being released in theaters. Its stars include Melissa McCarthy, Niecy Nash, Diedrich Bader, and the late Marcia Wallace. It has all the ingredients for a tasty little entertainment.

Like Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show,” this is a story about middle-class Americans passionately seeking to outdo each other, with a gallery of brilliant improv actors making small fights into a cutthroat competition. It takes place at a Pillsbury Bake-Off-style cooking contest with co-screenwriters Cathryn Michon and Wendi McLendon-Covey playing sisters Sharon and Pauline Solfest, who work together selling sex toys to married Lutheran women at home but have both qualified for the competition. Sharon (Michon), whose many different hairpieces are a hoot, is outgoing and outspoken, engaged to Lars Hagerbakke (Gary Anthony Williams), who is a bit confused about his identity, in part because he is a black man adopted by a white Swedish family. Her sister Pauline (McLendon-Covey) is withdrawn and shy, but don’t count out her creamed corn.

Also in the competition are Ladybug Briggs (Niecy Nash), the wheelchair-confined mother of a part-time preacher, the very, very pregnant Patty (Romy Rosemount), and the first-ever male contestant (Dietrich Bader), who just happens to be engaged to a former contestant who, after making it to the finals three times, is no longer eligible to compete, raising questions about the legitimacy of her fiance’s entry. Amber Strang (McCarthy with her real-life husband Ben Falcone) arrives too late but wear everyone down with their elaborate explanations and get to compete as well. And a hard-driving realtor is the Mama Rose of the competition, pushing her daughter like she’s selling a house. Meanwhile, Gavin McLeod and Marcia Wallace play themselves as the celebrity judges and the sponsor’s mascot, the guy with the muffin head, is wandering around contributing to the sense of happy (at least for us in the audience if not the characters) chaos.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, some crude sexual references and drinking.

Family discussion: Which contestant were you rooting for? What’s your signature dish?

If you like this, try: “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman”

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A Bad Mom’s Christmas

D

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use
Profanity: Very strong, explicit, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness, substance abuse humor, drinking to deal with stress, drinking as a bonding experience, drugs,
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Mild racism portrayed as humorous
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Copyright 2017 STX

If you think these things are hilarious, then “A Bad Mom’s Christmas” is your movie:

1. A young child repeatedly saying the words that go with OMFG, which she explains she heard when her daddy and his girlfriend were yelling at each other in the bedroom, and the girlfriend punched through the wall and they did it seven times.

2. A character who works in a spa meets the man of her dreams when he asks her to wax his private parts, which he describes in detail, so he can participate in a “Sexy Santa” male stripper competition.

3. At the competition, one of the strippers is revealed to be overweight.

4. Three moms deal with holiday stress by getting drunk at the mall, grinding on Santa, and then stealing a Christmas tree decorated with sneakers from Footlocker.

5. A mother slams her teenage son in the crotch with a foam bat, just for fun.

I do not.

I didn’t like the first Bad Moms movie, either. Like the original, this is a slack and lazy script that pretends to be all “you go, girl” empowerment but in reality has contempt for its intended audience, clearly thinking we don’t know or won’t care that we are being insulted. The pressure women are under to be everything to everyone and the complicated relationships women have with their mothers and daughters is well worth exploring and well worth exploring via comedy. But the men who wrote this have no particular interest in exploring it. This is just a bunch of dumb scenes strung together with so few ideas that they have to throw in some truly excruciating product placement with an extended scene in a trampoline playground until it is blessedly time to go home. It is a real shame to waste the monumentally talented cast on this smug and silly story, including the criminally underused Jay Hernandez. It’s bad enough that his role in the film is “perfect boyfriend,” but the script inflicts some casual racism on him as well. A wealthy woman mistakes him for a bellhop, in the home of his girlfriend, not even a hotel! Oh, my aching sides!

Oh, and the trampoline playground people should get their money back because this movie makes it look like the most un-fun thing ever, except for maybe watching this movie.

In the first film, Amy, a harried newly single mother (Mila Kunis), Kiki, an overwhelmed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), and Carla, a hard-partying pottymouth with a teenage son (Kathryn Hahn) join forces to oppose the impossible standards of perfection and the mean girl PTA President (Christina Applegate) who embodies them. In the sequel, they face two of any mother’s most high-pressure situations: Christmas and the arrival of their own mothers.

Amy’s mother is a demanding perfectionist who insists that the family attend the five-hour version of “The Nutcracker” in the original Russian and sing at 300 houses dressed as characters from “A Christmas Carol” (Amy as Scrooge) with a choir as back-up so they can win a caroling contest. Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is a rock and roll party girl who calls herself Isis (“like the terrorist group,” she explains), constantly either high, “borrowing” money, scamming someone, or all three at once. And Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines) is somewhere between smothering, helicoptering, and Single White Female crazy stalking.

A bunch of random stuff and outrageous chaos happens before the heart-to-heart talks that belatedly sort everything out, including some sort of job interview that occurs late on Christmas eve for no other reason than that they want to tie things up and figure no one will notice, to say nothing of a complete personality change here and there. It isn’t that we expect realism from a broad comedy, but it is fair for us to expect that once we enter the movie’s world, its premises will remain consistent enough for us to enjoy the payoff. Instead, we get this, and a lump of coal in the stockings of all who were responsible.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely raunchy humor with many explicit and crude sexual references and some sexual situations and very strong language used by and in front of children. Characters drink and use drugs, and they drink to deal with stress and to bond with each other. There is comic violence and peril, but no one gets hurt, and there are conversations about death and divorce of parents and about poor parenting.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standards the moms felt they had to live up to? What should the moms have said to their mothers? Why didn’t they say it?

If you like this, try: “Bridesmaids”

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Suburbicon

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence including multiple murders, many grisly and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 27, 2017

Copyright 2017 Paramount
“Suburbicon” is like a beautifully gift-wrapped box that turns out to be empty or a shaggy-dog story that entices you with promising details and then it is supposed to be funny that there’s no ending. A script by the Coen brothers that plays like a correctly discarded early draft of “Fargo” has been tweaked by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, a long way from their brilliant “Good Night and Good Luck,” and directed by Clooney. Even full-on stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (in a dual role!) cannot outshine the real star of the movie, the ironic air-quoting production design. The only member of the cast who makes any real impression is Oscar Isaac as an insurance investigator who calls himself a “professional skeptic” and provides a too-brief jolt of energy and interest in a movie that is otherwise way to amused by itself.

“Suburbicon” begins with a cute commercial for a idealized 1950’s planned community that ends with a cheery, “The only thing missing is YOU!” It looks like Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and all those sitcoms with cheery moms who vacuum in pearls and full makeup got together in all of their mid-century, postwar, consumerist, idealized, sanitized, and claustrophobically conformist and Everyone is welcome, it tells us, whether you’re from New York, Ohio, or Mississippi. But all of the people in the ad are white and all of the people in Suburbicon are white….until the Myers family moves in. They are black. This is a pointed reference to the real-life experience of the real-life black Myers family who moved to the conformist, consumerist planned community of Levittown in in 1957, resulting in constant harassment, threats, and a three-week-long riot, which the family endured with grace and patience.

That goes on here, as we see Mrs. Myers (Karimah Westbrook) told by the manager at the grocery that for her the price of a gallon of milk is $20, neighbors build a fence around their yard, and a crowd gathers outside their house, taunting them and setting their car on fire.

But that is not what the movie is about. The movie is mostly about what is going on next door, where armed intruders tie up and chloroform a family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose, who is confined to a wheelchair (Julianne Moore), her sister Maggie (more Moore), and his young son, Nick (an excellent Noah Jupe). Rose dies in the attack and Maggie moves into the house to help take care of Nick and Gardner.

And then things get really tangled. They just don’t get interesting. The production design and camera work are excellent, but what actually happens on screen is just a pointless escalation of deranged violence with cutaways to the poor Myers family to show how dumb it is that the neighbors are terrified of the black family while the white family is what should terrify them. But just making that point as people run around doing terrible things to each other and to a child is neither insightful nor effective.

Parents should know that this film is filled with horrifying violence, some of it very explicit and bloody. There are many murders and other bad behavior. A child is in peril, and he witnesses violence, sex, and bad behavior by the adults in his life. Virulent racism is a theme in the movie and characters use strong language including racist epithets.

Family discussion: Ask members of your family for their memories of the 1950’s. Why did the Myers family stay?

If you like this, try: “Fargo,” “Blood Simple,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and “Serial Mom”

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Exclusive Clip: Cupid’s Proxy, Starring Jackée Harry

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We are delighted to share this exclusive clip from “Cupid’s Proxy,” starring Jackée Harry as an advice columnist who turns to her young neighbor (Disney star Jet Jurgensmeyer) as her ghost writer. This cute family film is available now on iTunes.

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Comedy Family Issues

Home Again

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, marijuana, discussion of antidepressant medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, scuffle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 11, 2017
Copyright 2017 Open Road

Producer/director/writer Nancy Meyers has the formula on lockdown: Take one Oscar-winning performer, preferably of a certain age (Diane Keaton, Anne Hathaway, Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet). Create a setting of lush, heavenly comfort with soft pillows, gleaming surfaces, white wine, and luscious food. Add a generic title (“The Intern,” “The Holiday”). Put some overly familiar pop songs on the soundtrack and use them to hide the lack of dialogue in scenes when we should be allowed to hear what the characters are saying that is making them think differently about each other. Settle back for a story where the female character is ADORED by everyone and also very capable and pretty much right about everything.

Whether her daughter absorbed all of this by osmosis or is merely a fully-owned subsidiary of the Meyers operation, we may never know. But “Home Again,” the first film from writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is produced by her mother and follows exactly the same formula. It is, to say the least, highly unusual for a first-time writer/director to helm such a high budget, high-profile project, starring, yes, an Oscar-winner, Reese Witherspoon, as yes, a women of a certain age who lives in a spectacularly gorgeous home (Fountain in front! Guest house in back!). But Meyers is a reliable commodity, and as generous with her daughter as her ever-beneficent heroines are in the films. Remember Streep bringing out all those pies for her friends?

If there are no surprises here, one of the non-surprises is that the movie is an easy watch, combining, as Meyers films do, pleasant fantasy with aspirational settings. I know I’ll watch it again when it comes on cable, or if I have the flu or need to fold laundry.

Witherspoon is Alice, as in Wonderland, a mother of two who has moved into her late father’s house in Los Angeles because she and her music industry producer who wears leather bracelets husband Austen (Michael Sheen) have separated. Her father was a much-married, Oscar-winning screenwriter and director because apparently that is pretty much the only world she knows or the only one we can dream of.

Alice goes out with friends on her birthday and gets tipsy with three young men who have just arrived in Los Angeles after success with a short, black and white film they are hoping to turn into a feature. She and Harry (Pico Alexander) end up in bed together, though too drunk to do anything. The next morning, Alice’s mother (Candace Bergen) arrives, befriends the three young men, and invites them to stay in Alice’s guest house.

Alice is against this at first, but comes to enjoy it, as the guys help her with the house and her girls and she and Harry end up doing what they were unable to do that first night. The ultimate seduction move is, of course, fixing the hinge on her cabinet, and I don’t say that metaphorically. They all of course ADORE her and are themselves adorable. Enter Austen, wanting to assert his alpha male status and win back Alice because of course he ADORES her, too.

So, basically a high-end Hallmark movie, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NOTE: This is the second movie in a row for Meyers with an inappropriate and borderline offensive “joke” about children who take antidepressants. What’s up with that?

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, as well as family conflicts and divorce, a child dealing with stress, and a scuffle.

Family discussion: Were you surprised by Alice’s decision? How did Harry help her understand what she needed?

If you like this, try: “The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated” — and you can glimpse writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer in her parents remake of “The Parent Trap”

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